When I was little, I used to watch the winter Olympics and dance around the house, pretending to be an ice skater. Although I was never as graceful, I grew to love the sport and had many idols like Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Sarah Hughes. So one can imagine my delight when I came across an article discussing Olympic ice skater, Michelle Kwan, and her current diplomatic efforts.
In the next week, Kwan will be speaking at the University of Tennessee to promote a program focused on sports diplomacy. The Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative is run through the U.S. Department of State, where Kwan is a senior adviser. The initiative brings together 24 women from 6 different countries from around the world to promote cultural diplomacy through sports.
“When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society.” This quote stuck out at me from the U.S. State Department’s website. Not only is this initiative a great instance of cultural diplomacy, but it is also giving opportunity to women who are less privileged. By helping these women and girls succeed in sports, they will be more inclined to succeed in other aspects of their lives and other’s. Seeing Michelle Kwan use her Olympic status to promote awareness to help other women is not only a great example of cultural diplomacy, but celebrity diplomacy as well.
Just in time for our week of readings focusing on Chinese Public diplomacy efforts comes the first visit of a Chinese leader, President Xi Jingping, to European Union institutions in Brussels! Originally for this blog post, I wanted to focus on the Melisson and Cross piece for the Clingendael Institute about how the EU can address its own PD dilemma, but I’ll have to save that for later, because I ran across this priceless article that I think perfectly illustrates China’s “charm offensive” approach to Public Diplomacy: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140331/world/China-s-panda-diplomacy-to-ease-EU-talks.512925
Two pandas (Xing Hui and Hao Hao) are being used as official envoys for China; they were sent to visit a Belgian zoo a month ahead of Xi’s visit, partly in order to send a message to the EU that China is willing to take a less confrontational stance on trade issues and ready to resolve trade disputes. One of the top items of President Xi’s agenda in Europe is pushing the EU to consider a massive free-trade deal with China. Interestingly, the visit of the two furry ambassadors has had some unintended diplomatic consequences; it has irritated long standing regional rivalries in Belgium. The pandas are being housed in a zoo in the French-speaking region of Wallonia (hometown of Belgian PM Elio di Rupo), which has angered the largest zoo in the country, located in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and caused separatist Flanders politician Bart de Waver to show up on a TV talk show dressed as a panda! http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-s-xi-seeks-win-win/1054644.html
It remains to be seen whether Xi’s desire to show a softer, fuzzier side of China to the EU will have its intended effect: it’s being reported that most of the EU member states have resisted Chinese pressure to include references to a joint-trade pact in the joint statement that will be released after Xi’s visit with leaders in Brussels.